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- The Voyage of the Hoppergrass - 3/32 -
This river was very different from the main stream. Narrow and muddy, it ran between high banks which were covered with marsh grass. There were sudden twists and turns, so that we never knew what might be ahead of us. Sometimes we sailed so near the shore that the boom swept along the bank, brushing the grass. Once we turned a corner suddenly, and started up four crows, who were pecking at a dead fish, and in another place a big crane jumped clumsily up from a pool, and flapped heavily away. The dark, muddy water boiled up in thousands of bubbles in our wake.
"We'll see if we can get a mess of clams at Pingree's Beach, an' then we'll have a chowder for dinner,--what d'yer say, boys?"
We all said that the Captain's idea was a good one. There was a sharp turn in the river just then, and he put the boat about to round a sort of headland, where the banks were eight or ten feet high.
"Hard-a-lee! Look out for your heads," he shouted; and when the sail had swung over he continued: "I come up through here one night two years ago, in a boat that belonged to Dave Rodigrass,--I was bringing her up from Little Duck Island, for him. It was thicker'n burgoo, an' when I got the other side o' this pint, I heard a feller sing out from this side that he was aground, an' he warned me off, an' when I got here I couldn't see him, an' pretty soon he begun shoutin' from the other side. I tell yer I thought I'd got 'em again, or something, an' I--"
The Captain's recollections stopped that instant, for a voice--a loud, cheerful voice--arose only a few feet from us. It came from the other side of the sail, and that was all we could tell about it.
"Look out there!" it shouted, "look out! Oh, I mean: ship ahoy! ship ahoy!"
This hail came so suddenly that it made us jump, and Ed Mason, who was standing up forward, nearly fell overboard. He grabbed the mast to save himself, and then we all stooped to looked under the sail. The shouting had begun again, and there was a great racket of "Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!"
A MAN ON A DESERT ISLAND
"All right, all right!" shouted Captain Bannister, "we hear yer. You needn't ahoy so much."
But the voice continued to shout "Ship ahoy!" at a great rate, until the "Hoppergrass" drew slowly ahead, and we could see what had been hidden by the sail.
A sand-bar stuck out of the water, right in the middle of the river. Only a few feet of it showed, and the island which it made was very small. It was so small that the man who was sitting on it had his legs drawn up till his knees came right under his chin, so as to keep his feet from getting wet. He was a young man, about twenty years old. He had on white trousers and a pink shirt, and he was slowly waving a white canvas hat. His hair was sandy, and very much ruffled, and his big, pale blue eyes were wide open, as though he were surprised about something.
"Ship ahoy!" he remarked again, but in an ordinary conversational tone, this time.
Then he climbed to his feet,--carefully, so as to keep the steep sides of his little, sand island from giving way, and letting him down into the water. As soon as he was standing up straight he raised one hand in the air, as if he were in a play, and said: "Rescued at last!"
Then he turned toward us, and remarked: "Gentlemen, I thank you."
"You better wait till you're on board," said the Captain, "before you begin thankin' us. I'll come about in a minute, an' then we'll fetch yer in the tender."
Jimmy Toppan had already begun to pull the small boat alongside, but before he could get into it, the young man called out: "That's all right! I'll swim."
And he plunged into the water, and struck out toward us. Of course he could not overtake a sail-boat, and we soon left him behind. He kept on swimming, however, until his hat fell off. Turning around, he picked up the hat, and jammed it on his head again. By this time the Captain had put about, and started on a tack that brought us near the swimmer. The young man came alongside, with a smile on his wet face.
"Don't try to grab the boat," shouted the Captain, "get hold of the tender!"
So the swimmer let us pass him, seized the side of the small boat, and after one or two trials (which nearly upset the tender) managed to climb in. He stood up in the stern, and raised his hand toward the sky, again, as if he were "speaking a piece" in school.
"Safe! Safe, at last!" he cried.
At this instant the painter became taut; the small boat gave a sudden jerk, and he went overboard again like a flash, head first.
Captain Bannister turned his head to see how the young man was getting on. Of course the boat was empty.
"Where'n the nation has he got to, now?" exclaimed the bewildered Captain.
We were all doubled up laughing, but we managed to gasp out: "He's gone overboard again!"
"What's he done that for?"
"Fell over? What'n the dickens did he do that for? Where is he, anyhow?"
At this moment the sandy head, and astonished face came up, once more, in our wake. He brushed the water out of his eyes, looked at us, and began to smile again.
"Say, you!" shouted the Captain, "be you comin' on this boat, or what be you goin' to do?"
The swimmer gasped.
"If you keep on at that rate," he called, "I'm probably NOT coming. If you'll wait a bit, though, I'll--"
Here he swallowed a mouthful of water, and stopped speaking. He waved one arm at us, however, and seemed to smile cheerfully.
"Well, I'll come back once more,--d'yer hear?" This from the Captain. "An' when yer get aboard, STAY aboard, will yer?"
The "Hoppergrass" turned again, and the same performance was gone through. The pink-shirted man climbed into the tender, but this time he sat down cautiously in the stern, and waited for the painter to become taut. It had not slackened however, so there was no chance for another such accident as that which knocked him overboard before. He watched the painter for a moment, and then shook his fist at it.
"Fooled you that time, you old rope!"
Jimmy and Ed pulled the tender alongside, and the wet man stepped gingerly aboard the "Hoppergrass." His clothes stuck tight to him, and his shoes made a squshy sound, wherever he stepped. But he insisted on shaking hands with us, all around.
"If you hadn't come just when you did," he remarked solemnly, "I should have been devoured by sharks. Already I had noticed a black fin circling about the island--I mean a LEAN, black fin,--or is it a low, rakish, black fin? No; that's a craft,--a low, rakish, black craft. It was a LEAN, black fin--"
Captain Bannister gave a great snort of disgust.
"SHARKS!" he exclaimed, "there aint no sharks in this river!"
"No? Well, probably you are more familiar with it than I am."
"Guess I ought to know something 'bout it," the Captain returned; "I've been on it longer than most folks 'round here."
"On it LONGER, no doubt," said the young man, politely, "but have you gone into it any deeper than I?"
The Captain smiled.
"Well, no; I guess not. You've got me there, all right."
The stranger perched himself on the house, and there was a moment's silence until the Captain spoke again.
"But how in the nation did yer git on that there sand-bar, anyway? Where'd yer come from?"
"I came from--what was the name of that place where I got off the train? I thought I'd remember it,--I remembered it by gammon and spinach--yes, that's it,--it's in that, somehow--"
' Rowley, Powley, Gammon and Spinach,--Heighho! says Anthony--'"
"Rowley!" we all exclaimed.
"That's it! that's it! Rowley. Think of living at a place so famous as that! It sounds like great fun. But nobody does live there. When I got off the train there was only one man in sight, and he was standing on a wharf watching a steamboat go up the river, or down the river, or whatever it is. That was MY boat,--I
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